The critically endangered black and white ruffed lemur now has two new additions to its population with the birth of twin sisters at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham.
The sisters, Harriot and Helene, were born on May 6 to 5-year-old mom Halley and her 15-year-old mate Ravo — the second set of twins for the parents, the center announced on June 6.
Black and white ruffed lemurs are critically endangered in the wild, which means the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers the species to “have a high risk of becoming extinct.”
The lemurs are nearly extinct because of habitat loss from slash-and-burn agriculture, logging and mining as well as hunting, the center said.
The lemurs are native to the mountainous rainforests of eastern Madagascar, according to the center, where their thick fur protects them from the wet climate as they travel through the forest canopy.
Black and white ruffed lemurs are among the largest living lemur species, reaching up to 9 pounds, the center said.
The lemurs are important for pollination, as they eat fruit, nectar seeds and leaves, according to the center. Pollen sticks to the ruffed fur around their faces and gets transported from tree to tree, according to the center. They are the largest pollinators in the world.
Ruffed lemurs are also important seed dispersers. They swallow large seeds, which pass through their digestive systems and are excreted onto the forest floor with their own “packets of fertilizer,” the center said.
“If large seed-dispersers like ruffed lemurs disappear, large trees could disappear, too,” the center said.
This lemur species is also special because they are “one of the only primates who build nests for their young,” the center said. Along with their cousins, red ruffed lemurs, lemurs like Harriot and Helene’s mom, Halley, build nests to snuggle their infants safely inside.
The center typically names its lemurs according to themes. Black and white ruffed lemurs at the center are usually given celestial names.
Harriot is named for an impact crater in the moon, which was named for English astronomer Thomas Harriot, the first person to observe the moon through a telescope, the center said.
Helene is named for one of Saturn’s moons.
And unlike most other ruffed lemurs that look very similar, it’s easy to tell the difference between the twin sisters, the center said.
“Helene is larger and sports an impressive white ruff, whereas Harriot is smaller with a delicate appearance,” the center said in its birth announcement. “Because mom Halley is so attentive to her infants, Harriot and Helene are absolutely thriving!”
The center has a program where people can “adopt” lemurs to help contribute to their care. Mom Halley is available for adoption and contributions go to the care of Halley and her new family.